AFTER nearly 110 years sizing up the people of Wantage for new shoes, the Bailey family is shutting its shop in the market place.
It’s the end of an era for Geoffrey and Marie Bailey, along with daughter Helen Hook who has been in charge of the day-to-day running of the shop since 2000.
The family firm – which has boasted F1 racing star Ralf Schumacher among its patrons – started mending, making and selling shoes in 1903 when Helen’s great-grandfather traded as a cobbler from a cottage in Abingdon.
She said: “My grandfather, Ron Bailey, inherited the business and developed the retail side to premises in Faringdon, Headington, and Wantage, where a lease was taken on premises in Grove Street about 50 years ago.
“Shortly afterwards, there was an opportunity to take a lease on 47 Market Place.
Her father bought the freehold on 34 Market Place in 1993, where the business has been since.
Father-of-three Mr Bailey, from Wantage, said: “A shop like this could go on trading forever but we have reached this decision.
“I have been selling shoes for 47 years, so when I started out in the 1960s Chelsea boots were in fashion and I wore nice high-heeled Frank Wright boots with a zip.
“Fashions come and go, from platforms to points, but we have always had a traditional base, selling traditional English-welted shoes, with locally sourced materials if possible.
“My favourite shoe is a classic English brogue.”
And the store has had a famous customer, not that they noticed. Formula 1 star Ralf Schumacher, who drove for the Williams team based at Grove, was once a customer. Mr Bailey said: “Someone saw him with one of our bags at the airport, but we didn’t know until afterwards!”
Following the retirement of her parents, who are both 66, Mrs Hook has decided she does not want to carry on running the family shop and it will close at the end of September.
Mrs Hook, 39, from Wantage, said: “Dad took a back seat about 12 years ago but still comes down every morning and mum has been involved in the book-keeping. Dad and mum both want to retire and I have decided I want to do something different. I have worked before in product development for shoes and I’m looking to do the same thing again.
“Buying shoes on the Net is a huge market and is a challenge to a shop like ours.
“But there is still a place for family-run independent shoe shops in the high street.”
Mr Bailey is looking forward to spending more time fishing, while his wife is looking forward to more shopping.
Wantage county councillor Jenny Hannaby said: “This is sad news because the Bailey shoe shop has served families over generations in Wantage.
“But if Helen has decided to do something else with her life then I wish her all the best.”